Who's a click ahead of the rest in computers?

Market Leaders Pick Their Market Leader
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Brian McBride, Vice-president and general manager, Dell, UK and Ireland

The development and popularity of the internet is heavily impacting on the PC industry. The internet is creating demand for PCs and the people at the other end, behind the dot.coms, are after a storage structure for their product.

PC manufacturers are serving two markets. Chips are getting bigger, faster and cheaper. And PCs are pretty similar so the opportunity to differentiate yourself from others is difficult. We do it by selling direct. The consumer likes the reassurance in buying from a respected dealer. They select a brand name because behind that name is service and support.

The internet phenomenon will flourish. People will be looking at different ways to get on to the Web. But these new devices will not displace the PC. People will always return home to synchronise their gadgets with their PC. There isn't a huge amount of innovation in the PC market except in design. Your basic PC hasn't changed its looks for 15 years. The people at Apple brought the idea that design is important.

John Shepheard, Director, Dan Technology

The PC industry is at a very interesting stage. We've gone through the phase where the computer was only for the enthusiast and now the home computer market is exploding. Admittedly, everyone is tired of talking about it, but the internet has changed everything.

Prices of PCs have fallen, the product is more affordable and it's no longer a niche technology. Some of the driving forces in the market are 4ft tall - parents are being pressured by their clued-up children to become more technically aware.

The challenge of the work is to strike the balance between a sexy products and a stable product. It's a difficult trade-off - you want your machines to have the latest technology but that does mean there's more to go wrong. Manufacturers also have to find a balance between making the product so low-priced that everyone will buy it but then having no after-sales service.

I admire Dell because it has done a superb job at looking at what its consumers and clients want. They are quite clearly number one in the market. I also very much admire Hewlett Packard because of their use of technology: they make high quality products.

Michael Spiro, Commercial director, Elonex

Today you are judged by the service you offer. The way to forge ahead in the sector is to partner up. If the next move is to go into wireless technology and GPS then we will partner other specialists to master the job. The main priority is that we remain the one point of contact for the customer.

We are aware of our competition - we're not trying to do everything for everybody but we do watch our competition. As a company we respect and fear everybody, Viglan especially, because they work in an education environment similar to ours.

Neil Stevens, Director, Tiny Computers

This is a very fast industry: retailing is fast, PCs are fast and the internet is fast. We need to re-evaluate every day how we can increase the growth we've been experiencing. We literally change what we do every day - from product range to marketing approach.

You do need to keep your wits about you these days, for the rate of technological change is gaining speed. We have to be able to implement new technology and get the ideas to market within days.

But I do think the industry is doing a bad job in terms of innovation, considering the tidal wave of different internet access methods about to hit. Selling beige boxes isn't sustainable as far as the consumer is concerned. Apple are being innovative with their products - look at the i-Mac. But in the traditional PC industry, nobody's doing great stuff. Dell did a great job early on but Apple are the only people who have made computing a different experience.

Richard Austin, Managing director, Evesham.com

Oours is a frantic business purely because of the pace of change - to succeed, it's vital that we keep up with it. We usually change our product line-up from month to month. The pace isn't slowing and to try to stay in the game, we have to plan ahead substantially. Because we're small, we can be really fast on our feet and this is what allows us to be competitive with the larger multinational companies.

We tend to sell to people who are looking for high-specification machines so we have to keep our eyes on the new technology.

I can see things becoming more and more sophisticated. We have merely scratched the surface of the technology in functionality. In a few years we will look back on today's internet with incredulity, because it will appear to be so slow. Speed and functionality are the way forward.

Looking around, I'd have to say that I admire Dell. They've strengthened their market share extremely effectively over the past two or three years - we really look for them doing incredible things on a worldwide scale.

Kevin Loosemore, Chief executive, IBM, UK & Ireland

The challenge for us is to continue to meet the constantly changing requirements of our customers. The consumer is becoming more sophisticated, aware and comfortable with the new technology. And more demanding. So the PC has to be easier to use, lighter to carry and faster for internet access.

The consumer doesn't seem to be terribly concerned with what's inside as long as it does what they want. But they are becoming more interested in what their box looks like. So now the PC has to havefunctionality, but also be something you can be proud to own and display. The fundamental issue is that people want quality and ease of use in their PC.

To single out any of our competitors would be dangerous because they are extremely good competitors. I have high respect for all of them as I strive hard to stay in front - a good thing because it moves the whole market forward.

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